VP, GM of Louisiana Refinery Pleads Guilty to Clean Air Act Violations

Byron Hamilton, 66, vice president and general manager of Pelican Refining Company (PRC), pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of negligent endangerment under the Clean Air Act. The violations endangered people’s health by releasing hazardous air pollutants, such as benzene, a carcinogen, toluene and xylene, which can cause liver and kidney damage, and hydrogen sulfide, an extremely hazardous substance that can cause eye irritation, fatigue, and in extreme cases, death.

“The violations found at this facility made for nothing short of unsafe operating conditions. Unsafe for workers and unsafe for the surrounding community,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Today’s guilty plea ensures that the flagrant disregard for worker safety and our nation’s environmental laws cease at this facility.”

In March 2006, the EPA and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality conducted an inspection of PRC’s crude oil refinery and asphalt plant in Lake Charles, Louisiana Inspectors found numerous unsafe operating conditions, including unpermitted releases of hydrogen sulfide, storing crude oil in unrepaired storage tanks, failure to repair emissions monitoring and control equipment and placing plastic children’s pools under numerous pieces of leaking equipment.

“Polluters will be held accountable for violations of federal laws set to protect public health,” said Al Armendariz, EPA Regional Administrator. “As this conviction shows, we will aggressively prosecute those who deliberately ignore the nation’s Clean Air Act.”

In November 2007, federal search warrants were carried out at PRC’s corporate headquarters in Houston, Texas, and at the refinery in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Further investigation revealed multiple instances of workers being ordered to take hydrogen sulfide measurements from storage tanks without the use of personal protective equipment, despite management’s knowledge of tanks containing unsafe levels of hydrogen sulfide.

Reducing illegal air pollution and cutting toxic air pollution in communities are two of the EPA’s National Enforcement Initiatives for 2011-2013. This prosecution advances the EPA’s enforcement efforts in both areas and protects communities from illegal, and in this case criminal, actions that impact air quality.

The proceedings took place in the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana.